My earliest introduction to team sports was Little League Baseball in fourth grade. I didn’t own a baseball glove until our next door neighbor gave me one. He was a lefty, too.
He was a fantastic baseball player. He had seven no-hitters in high school, won championships in college, and went on to play professional baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He hurt his arm and had to quit playing. He has a very successful coaching career and was elected to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame. I’m very proud to have played street baseball with him, but hitting a tennis ball in the street was the limit of my ability.
I really loved the game, that wasn’t the problem at all. I just couldn’t play it. I really liked the uniform, wearing cleats, and being on the team. I didn’t like batting, didn’t want to try bunting, and was not good at catching the ball. The coach discovered my talents early and put me in right field where no one ever hit the ball.
I knew nothing about strategies, where to throw the ball if it actually did come my way, or when to run. I knew what a walk was, and that became my goal in every game. Don’t get hit by the ball, and wait until the umpire says, “Take your base.” Most of the time he said, “You’re out.”
I was happy when my first season of Little League was over. I didn’t play the next year.
In the off season I told my dad I wanted to be a pitcher. He borrowed a catcher’s mit and a plywood home plate from the neighbor. Soon I was winding up, throwing as hard as I could, and actually hitting the mit. Sometimes. I improved with a lot of practice and I was sure I could pitch like our next door neighbor.
When baseball season arrived after sixth grade, I went to the tryouts. I told the coaches I was a pitcher and I was soon showing them what I could do. A boy trying out as a catcher said, “Hey! Don’t throw so hard! This is just a tryout!” I threw harder.
I pitched my first game on my birthday. We won 6-0. I actually hit the ball that day but the second baseman caught it. Out, as usual. I was so proud of my pitching performance I hung around at the baseball fields all day. When I went back to the concession stand later in the day the lady said, “Are you still here?”
My second venture into team sports was in eighth grade. I was tall, so obviously I was a basketball player. I wasn’t concerned about understanding the game, which I didn’t, I just knew I had to throw the ball through the hoop. Which never happened.
I was part of the 30 second squad. The coach put me in the game the last thirty seconds as long as we were ahead by forty points. It was a great season. I still have my 8th grade basketball photo.
Another foray into team sports was football in 9th grade. This story is not as long as my baseball adventures. I discovered the crab crawl, and got hit by a giant when I stood straight up with the ball and I knew I had made a terrible mistake. I was a two-day football star.
After 10th grade I decided to try baseball again. I didn’t understand the game any better than I did years before, even though I had played church-league softball for a few years. I was really no better in softball, and that should have been a sign.
I hit some of my best foul balls that summer. I never saw where they went but I knew by the reaction of the crowd I had hit them a long way. If I had been able to actually stay in the batter’s box until the ball came, I might have been able to get a hit.
I remember people yelling, “Watch the ball hit the bat!” I watched but the ball never hit the bat. I couldn’t understand it. I heard the other day that kids now have their own bats that cost two or three hundred dollars. Two or three hundred!! A bat that costs that much should come with hits attached! The only bats I ever saw came with the coach in a big green canvass bag. Some were long, some were short. None of them got hits for me.
The sports gene missed me completely. I wish someone would have taken me aside and said, “Listen. You really stink at this, so maybe you should try something else.”
Oh well, it didn’t hurt me. In fact, when I think about all the time I haven’t wasted going to pitching tryouts, I really have saved a great amount of time and grief. I still love watching baseball. I watch the pitchers carefully, and somewhere, way down inside, I still hear this voice that says, “I could do that.”
One thing I do really well is drink coffee.